Bengaluru and Shimla have been adjudged the ‘most liveable’ among 111 cities of India on the Ease of Living Index of the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry. Not surprisingly, the respective state governments and city administrators are patting themselves on the back for having apparently done a good job. However, it would be fallacious to assume that ‘all is well’ with these cities or others with a high ranking. Though Bengaluru and Shimla are poles apart, what they have in common are their traffic and parking problems. In terms of traffic congestion, Bengaluru is one of the worst places in the world, according to the globally recognised TomTom index. The number of motor vehicles in the Karnataka capital is expected to reach 1 crore by 2022 — a staggering average of nearly one vehicle per person. The number of vehicles plying on Shimla’s roads has more than doubled in 14 years. These worrying figures reflect poorly on the public transport system in both cities. There is no denying that prolonged and frequent traffic jams, considerable commuting time and inadequate parking facilities adversely impact the residents’ quality of life.
Does clean air have nothing to do with ease of living? It’s baffling that Gurugram, listed in the World Air Quality Report among the most polluted cities on the planet, figures as high as No. 8 on the liveability leader board. The flawed evaluation criterion gives weightage of 30 per cent to citizens’ perception, which is a major factor contributing to a city’s good, bad or ugly image.
The ranking race can offer no solution to vexed urban issues. Long-term planning and regular monitoring of projects are needed to ensure holistic and sustainable development of cities. The Smart Cities Mission, launched with fanfare in 2015, remains a work in progress, hampered by fund shortage and tardy implementation. The ongoing financial year has seen a yawning gap of around Rs 3,400 crore between the original and revised allocation for this mission. Such a half-hearted approach should be shunned if we want to make our cities actually liveable.